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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Ronald Butt, 1920-2002
Readers will probably have seen one of the obituaries that appeared in The Times and The Daily Telegraph shortly after Ronald Butts death in December 2002. They might also remember William Rees Moggs description of him as a journalist scholar. Here I want to write a much more personal obituary. I first met Ronald Butt at the time when this journal began. I well recall his encouragement, straightforwardness and readiness to write for the new journal. He had no concern about holding fashionable views, as The Times reminded us, and was therefore a rare person indeed. His aim, as I hope is ours today, was to get at the truth and make it available to his readers. I used to go overto The Times and we went out to lunch together.
How he managed all this throughout a career that would have placed enormous strains on him can really be understood only by people who also feel the pointlessness of doing anything other than what their convictions lead them to do. Harold Evans persuaded him to join The Sunday Times as assistant editor, although he fretted at times that Butts views were not fashionable enough. New European started at a time when European issues were far from fashionable yet he wrote four articles bearing on the kind of Europe he would have liked to see developing. The care with which he argued his case was a prominent feature of all his articles. Writing on Maastricht, he tells us that on balance John Majors government was not wrong in the circumstances to sign the Treaty but the government never acknowledged the risk they were taking: The danger was that we should find ourselves out on a main road from which there were no safe exits. . . . Once more we could find ourselves edged away by the softly, softly approach of the Foreign Office . . . to the goal of a centralised European state. Other articles were "Europe and the Gulf" and it is interesting to note his analysis of the European situation in the First Gulf War and Safeguarding the British Constitution. The latter was one of two articles by Ronald Butt included in Christopher Joyces book Questions of Identity (A Selection from the Pages of New European). It also bore very directly on Ronald Butts main interest. He spent more than ten years of his life working on his History of Parliament. He completed the first Volume, almost completed the second and left the third for some scholar with a similar frame of mind to take up the challenge.
An obituary must include at least the salient facts of its subjects life and career. Ronald Butt held pacifist views in his youth and had to wrestle with his conscience serving in the Army in the Hitler war. He was in the Normandy Campaign and finished in the Army Intelligence Corps. He began his career in journalism in 1951 when he joined the Financial Times, which was then under the editorship of Sir Gordon Newton in the company of a number of talented young graduates: Nigel Lawson, Samuel Brittan, Shirley Williams and William Rees Mogg. He was for some time commodities correspondent of the Financial Times and later became its political editor. Harold Evans won him over to the assistant editorship of The Sunday Times and from there he went on to become the associate editor of The Times. It was at this period that his initial support for the journal was so valuable.
Ronald Butt was a man who wanted a good Europe, just as he wanted a good society. He resisted many of the dysfunctional trends in modern society and was involved in Family and Youth Concern for over 30 years. He was appointed CBE in 1987. Ronald Butt is survived by his wife Margaret, two sons and two daughters, who are all understandably very anxious that his work on the history of Parliament should be completed.
John ColemanFounding Editor of New European
Note1. Joyce, C. (Ed.) (2002), Questions of Identity, B. Tauris Ltd, London.